In any health and wellness profession, initial training is only meant to get you in the door. Training programs provide the best and most current knowledge they can, but any profession’s current knowledge is continually advancing. It doesn’t take long for our initial training to become outdated.
Continuing education (CE) is supposed to be the solution to this problem. Now mandatory for hundreds of thousands of health and wellness professionals around the country, CE is intended to help us keep up with new knowledge in our fields.
Unfortunately, a lot of health and wellness professionals view CE requirements with skepticism and even resentment. This gives rise to an interesting question: Since the intent of CE requirements is undeniably both good and necessary, why don’t we enjoy doing it?
There are a few reasons, and they make me deeply optimistic about the future of CE. They build on each other, so I’ll start with the most basic:
1. There are a lot of CE providers.
In Texas, anyone can provide CE if you pay the state $50 and promise to follow their rules. In California, the provider approval process used to be similarly loose, albeit with a higher fee (I say this with love for my home state: Everything costs more in California).
On one hand, we want anyone with valuable knowledge and the skill to deliver it to offer CE for credit. It’s great that there are a lot of CE providers: It keeps pricing competitive. And even for highly specialized content areas, there are many providers to choose from. Yet, with so many providers, it becomes difficult to find the best courses in our areas of interest.
2. We choose CE based on limited information.
If you’re interested in a focused, skill-based CE course—the kind that appears most likely to improve clinical outcomes—course descriptions and learning objectives provide limited information. Often, the only way to know whether a course truly matches what you’re looking for is to buy and take the course. And then, if the course wasn’t what you had in mind, you’re not likely to immediately seek out another course in the same content area.
Choosing a CE provider can be as confounding as choosing a graduate program: There are lots of them out there, they all claim to be great, and there aren’t many ways to objectively compare them. Therefore we tend to choose based on those few factors that do allow for meaningful comparison across providers: The price and the instructor (especially if the instructor is either famous or someone we’ve had prior experience with). Sure, we can ask colleagues about CE classes they’ve enjoyed, but those recommendations are inherently limited; those colleagues can only speak about the courses they’ve taken, not the hundreds of options they didn’t take. If they didn’t choose the best one for them, how would they know?
Having an abundance of options without meaningful ways to compare them can create a sort of choice paralysis. As psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote, it’s like looking at a wall full of jeans at a clothing store. You can’t spend all day trying on every pair before buying, but without doing so, you may find yourself riddled with anxiety that you purchased the wrong one. Ultimately, you may resent having to make the choice at all. You may avoid making that choice entirely, until it becomes an emergency: All your jeans are falling apart, or in our case, that license renewal deadline is creeping up on you.
3. We focus on the requirement part of a CE requirement, rather than the education part.
I’ve been there, so I intend no judgment at all—I’ve gone online, just a few days before my renewal deadline, to look for something easy and cheap. I’m not proud of that, but I also know I’m not alone. It’s hard not to see this as a function of those first two concerns. If it were easier to quickly and objectively compare the content offered by multiple sources, we’d probably all be a little more eager to buy the content that represents the best value for what we’re seeking. If we can know that we’re making a good choice, we’ll make the choice sooner.
I mentioned at the beginning that the reasons why CE isn’t as impactful as it should be actually make me feel deeply optimistic about the future of continuing education. Here’s the thing: Every one of the issues mentioned is solvable. And at SimplePractice, we’re working on the solution.
Here are some useful tips for finding CE courses that you’ll get the most out of:
1. Know what you’re looking for.
Look for something specific. If you see CE as little more than a checkbox on the road to license renewal, you’ll probably choose primarily on cost—and miss some fantastic opportunities to update your knowledge and improve your clinical outcomes. There actually are a lot of great CE courses available. If you see CE as an investment in the quality of your work and pursue those courses that specifically address your known areas of weakness, you can find quality.
2. Pay attention to the learning objectives.
These are the “By the end of this course, participants will be able to…” statements that providers generally include alongside course descriptions. The learning objectives aren’t meant to tell you the full scope of the course, but they can be useful for understanding the level of the course. For example, if you have specialized for years in working with substance abuse, you will want a more advanced course, where the learning objectives cover things you don’t know or aren’t current on.
3. Spread your wings.
Is there an area of work that you don’t know well, but find fascinating? It can be refreshing, especially if you’ve been in the field for a long time, to approach a CE course with a beginner’s mindset. Own your unfamiliarity with the subject, and allow yourself to be influenced.
One mistake I’ve made in my own career is taking too many CE courses in areas where I was already familiar with the content. It’s nice to have existing knowledge reinforced, especially if it’s been a while. However, there’s more value to be had in gaining knowledge that is genuinely new.
The same principle applies when choosing CE courses based on presenters. Many well-known presenters became well-known precisely because of their presenting skills. But it’s also true that many great presenters aren’t widely known, often because they’ve focused on their own clinical work rather than on building a following. It may feel like a gamble, but if you find a course intriguing, be willing to take a risk on an unknown presenter. They may teach you more than a presenter you’ve known, liked, and seen several times already, precisely because they’re new to you.
Speaking of new knowledge (and taking the idea a step further):
4. Seek courses that will challenge or even offend you.
This might seem counterintuitive. Why would I want to take a course that tells me that what I think I know is wrong? Many of the best CE courses I’ve taken in my career were ones that did exactly that. To paraphrase Dudley Field Malone, I’ve never learned anything from someone who agreed with me.
Challenges to our professional knowledge are good. If we can approach them non-defensively, we get to reckon with the basis for what we think we know. If that basis is sound, then a closer look can leave us feeling more confident in our work, even if the CE instructor works in a different way. On the other hand, if the basis for our existing knowledge is flawed or outdated, we shouldn’t hold onto it. And we should be grateful for the challenge.
Courses that challenge or offend will, if nothing else, be engaging in a very different way compared to a course that simply covers territory you already know.
These aren’t the only ways to find good CE, but I hope they represent a useful place to start. Stay tuned for more information about what we’re doing here at SimplePractice to help you find great CE content.